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“Authenticity matters and people need to be able to trust the connections they make on Facebook.”
-Mark Zuckerberg

After Facebook announced last month that it had identified suspicious accounts that were engaged in “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” it successfully took down 652 fake accounts and pages that published political content. Facebook had then declined to specify which country or countries may have been leading the campaign, but officials said the campaign was consistent with previous Russian attacks. These pages were suspected to have been intended to influence the US midterm elections set to take place in November this year.

The campaigns were first discovered by FireEye, a cybersecurity firm that worked with Facebook on investigating the fake pages and accounts.

Earlier this week, Facebook confirmed in a blog post that these campaigns had links to Russia and Iran. The existence of the fake accounts was first reported by The New York Times.

Taking down Inauthentic Behaviour

The conspiracy started unravelling in July,  when FireEye tipped Facebook off to the existence of a network of pages known as “Liberty Front Press”. The network included 70 accounts, three Facebook groups, and 76 Instagram accounts, which had 155,000 Facebook followers and 48,000 Instagram followers. The network had undisclosed links to Iranian state media, Facebook said, and spent more than $6,000 between 2015 and today. The network also hosted three events.

On investigating those pages, it was found that they linked them back to Iranian state media using website registration information and internet protocol addresses. Pages created in 2013, posted political content that was focused on the Middle East, Latin America, Britain and the United States.

Other fake pages also had a far more international spread than the earlier batches uncovered. They carried a number of pro-Iranian themes. The aim of the pages also included promoting Palestinians. Some included anti-Trump language and were tied to relations between the United States and Iran, including references to the Iranian nuclear weapons deal.
Newer accounts, created in 2016 targeted cybersecurity by spreading malware and stealing passwords. The accounts that originated in Russia focused on activity in Ukraine and Syria. They did not appear to target the United States.

But the aim of the latest campaigns can be summed up to be on similar lines as to those of past operations on the social network. Mainly to distribute fake news that might cause confusion among people, as well as to alter people’s thinking to become more biased or pro-government on various issues.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, officially made a statement in a conference call late Tuesday saying, “We believe these pages, groups, and accounts were part of two sets of campaigns, One from Iran, with ties to state-owned media. The other came from a set of people the U.S. government and others have linked to Russia.”

Closely following suit, Twitter also went ahead and suspended 284 accounts for engaging in coordinated manipulation. Their analysis supports the theory that many of these accounts originated from Iran.

Another social media giant, YouTube, deleted a channel called ‘Liberty Front Press’, which was a website linked to some of the fake Iranian accounts on Facebook. This was done because the account violated its community guidelines.

Facebook has come under heavy audit for how its policies are exploited by third parties for fake news, propaganda, and other malicious activity especially after the debacle of the coordinated election interference from Russia’s IRA before, during, and after the 2016 US election. The criticism has only aggravated as the US heads toward the midterms. Facebook has been making an effort to prepare its products and moderation strategy for any manipulation.

Now Facebook has taken a step further and is working with researchers to study social media-based election interference. The social media giant hopes to understand how this interference functions and to find ways to stop it.

Read the the new york times post for further analysis of this evolving situation.

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